Authors: Stephen V. Ash
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For Paul H. Bergeron:
mentor, colleague, and friend
At every step in the creation of this book I have been blessed with help from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. It is a pleasure to acknowledge their generosity.
At or near the top of every historian's list of debts are those owed to archivists. I especially want to thank Steve Cotham, director of the McClung Historical Collection in Knoxville, and his staff members Sally Polhemus and Ted Baehr; it was Steve who brought to my attention the fascinating memoir of John Robertson. I have also received assistance far beyond the call of duty from the director and staff of the Special Collections department of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville: Jim Lloyd, Nick Wyman, Bill Eigelsbach, and Aaron Purcell. When doing research at the National Archives in Washington, I have had the benefit of Mike Musick's vast knowledge of federal records. Archivists at the Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the Virginia Historical Society, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the Library of Virginia, the Perkins Library of Duke University, the Illinois State Historical Library, the Rockbridge Historical Society of Lexington, and Historic Elmwood Cemetery of Memphis have been of great help, too; I wish that space permitted me to name them all.
I am also in debt to many fellow historians. Nelson Lankford, Lynda L. Crist, Robert Kenzer, John D. Fowler, Kent Dollar, and Trevor Smith are just a few of those who have generously provided information. Three of my colleagues in the History Department of the University of Tennessee, KnoxvilleâKathy Brosnan, Lorri Glover, and Bruce Wheelerâdeserve special thanks for their interest in and encouragement of this project, not to mention their good company at our late-afternoon “seminars” at Charlie Pepper's.
A number of people outside the archival and academic realms have also gone out of their way to help me. Walter Davis of Jackson, Alabama, took me around the site of the Clarke County saltworks and explained the process of salt making. Tommy Lee and Edwina Carpenter of the Brice's Crossroads Museum and Visitors Center in Baldwyn, Mississippi, arranged for me to see the site of the Agnew plantation and provided me with some wonderful photographs. Mr. and Mrs. Buddy Lipscomb of Como, Mississippi, introduced me to J. Paul White of Senatobia, who showed me Fredonia Methodist Church and the site of the McGehee plantation. Robert E. Gartz of Brookfield, Wisconsin, tracked down Louis Hughes's grave and date of death. David Frazier of Guntown, Mississippi, sent me information on Samuel Agnew by way of Brenda Rayman of Knoxville. A special thank you goes to Pat Tindle of Topeka, Kansas, who has provided a wealth of helpful material and assisted me in other ways too numerous to mention. I am also deeply grateful to the legions of genealogists across the country whose unsung labors have unearthed an enormous amount of historical dataâmuch of it now onlineâwithout which this book could not have been written.
I can find no words to properly acknowledge two final debts, and so I must acknowledge them plainly and inadequately. My family has been an unfailing source of encouragement, support, and wisdom. And so too has Paul H. Bergeron of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who took me under his wing when I began graduate school nearly thirty years ago and has been my guide and friend ever since; to him this book is dedicated.
This book is about four ordinary people in an extraordinary time. Their names were Louis Hughes, Cornelia McDonald, John Robertson, and Samuel Agnew. From birth to death, they lived far apart from one another and in very different circumstances. They had little in common except this: they were Southerners who lived through the pivotal moment of Southern history.
The moment was 1865. When that year began, the Old Southâincarnated forty-seven months earlier as the Confederate States of Americaâstill stood. When that year ended, the Old South was gone and a New South was taking shape.
Surely no other sizable portion of the American people ever experienced so wrenching a year, or one so brimming with possibilities, as Southerners did in 1865. It was a year that began in war and ended in peace, a year that saw disunion give way to reconstruction, a year that marked the passage from slavery to freedom. The story of those people in that tumultuous time is not only fascinating but also instructive, for it can tell us much about how the New South came to be and about what the Old South was.
Storytellers confront the same dilemma as painters and photographers: the broader their perspective, the more comprehensive their scene, but the less distinct their subjects' features. A narrative that tries to embrace all the Southern people in 1865 risks reducing them to a faceless crowd. I have adopted a different approach that poses its own risks.
In focusing on four individuals, I have sought a balance of breadth and depth, while obviously forfeiting any claim to comprehensiveness. I have selected Hughes, McDonald, Robertson, and Agnew from among many possible subjects in the belief that their stories would reflect something of the experience of Southerners as a whole in 1865. But if these four were in some ways typical, they were also in many ways unique, and much that is recounted herein is essentially personal, illuminating no lives but their own.
This book begins with a prologue that introduces the characters and sketches their lives up to 1865. The four parts that follow move chronologically from the beginning to the end of 1865, with each part corresponding to a season of the year. The characters appear sequentially in each part, and an epilogue summarizes their lives after 1865.
Although each of the four wrote a personal account of some sort, they also left a great deal unsaid. I have examined other sources to find out more about them and about the places they lived, the people they knew, and the events they lived through. Even so, much about these three men and this one woman remains obscure. What this book offers, therefore, is not the whole story but rather a vivid part of the story of four Southerners as they stepped across the threshold between the old world and the new.